SAN FRANCISCO: The City Attorney's Consumer Protection Unit has filed a lawsuit against a social networking site over concerns about child safety.
City attorney, Dennis Herrera says the social media platform known as MeetMe, is unlawfully publicating information that may pinpoint the exact location of minors to online, sexual-predators.
The civil complaint was filed in the San Francisco Superior Court this morning, when Herrera claimed that the that the Pennsylvania based company was 'violating California's Unfair Competition Law' by relying on legally-invalid consent from children between the ages of 13 and 17 to share their real-time geolocation and personal information.
According to social media marketing statistics cited in the complaint, approximately 25 percent of MeetMe's user base is under the age of 18. The lawsuit also alleges that MeetMe fails to adequately disclose to its users how their personal data is distributed.
"MeetMe has become a tool of choice for sexual predators to target underage victims, and the company's irresponsible privacy policies and practices are to blame for it," Herrera said.
He added that he believes that the company improperly collects personal information from young teens, including their photos and real-time locations. It then distributes that information in ways that expose children to very serious safety risks.
"Under California law, MeetMe's business practices are illegal, and we're asking a court to put an end to them".
According to news reports that Herrera documented as part of the complaint, MeetMe has emerged as a key factor in numerous crimes involving sexual assault and illicit sex with minors in California.
In August of last year, a 29-year-old Citrus Heights man was charged with multiple counts of sexual acts with a minor and communicating with minors for unlawful purposes. Police investigators found that MeetMe was among the apps the perpetrator used to send sexually-explicit photos and text messages to underage girls in order to begin a "sexting" relationship that progressed to sexual contact.
Another man from Fresno was arrested in October on suspicion of sexually assaulting a minor that he met using the social meetup platform. And in July 2013 a 21-year-old Fair Oaks man was criminally charged after posing as a 16-year-old to have sex with two girls who were aged 12 and 15. He also used the website to meet with the minors.
Dozens of minors nationwide have been similarly victimized in sex crimes by predators who relied on MeetMe to target underage victims, according to reports cited in Herrera's complaint.
In June 2013, a Massachusetts man was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to more than 50 charges, including rape of a child by force, indecent assault and battery on a child under 14. The individual had used multiple aliases on MeetMe to trick teenage girls into sending him nude images which in turn he used as blackmail unless the girls had sex with him.
Other listed cases in the complaint included, a man in Pennsylvania who was charged in September of 2013 after using MeetMe to meet and then sexually assault three teenagers. And in Oklahoma, a 25-year-old man used the site to meet and rape a 15-year-old girl.
An Albuquerque TV news station, reporting on MeetMe's role in the case of a 21-year-old man who was arrested for soliciting sex with a 13-year-old girl, noted: "Investigators say it's the latest site predators are cruising to find new victims, and it's happening all too often".
The lawsuit is seeking a court order to instruct that MeetMe discontinue engaging in activities in California that violate state law. It is looking for civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation found to have occurred in the state, and costs of the City Attorney's lawsuit.
Complete documentation on the case is available at: http://www.sfcityattorney.org/.
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